The Art and Science of Chemex
When the sun rises and it’s time to brew a fresh cup, coffee drinkers probably don’t think of themselves as artistic chemists. But that became true for chemex users back in 1941 when a German chemist named Peter J. Schlumbohm Ph.D. (pronouncing his last name might require some caffeine) used the basic design and function of laboratory funnels and flasks to invent the chemex, a laboratory grade drip coffeemaker. Since then, chemex has been recognized for its excellent design by museums like the Smithsonian, the Corning Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and is known as one of the most elegant brewing methods in the world.
Chemex calls for basic coffee-making ingredients: hot water, filter paper, and, of course, coffee. But unlike your average “joe” machine, chemex allows you to have direct control over the body and flavor of your cup. It offers a more hands-on brewing experience than other brewing methods, allowing you to personally escort the coffee from grinds to gold. That’s sort of what chemex-brewed coffee looks and tastes like: liquid gold. Smooth and thin, it reminds one of our baristas of tea, which is good news if you’re an adventurous tea drinker taking baby steps towards coffee.
Chemex can seem intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the process, but don’t let its fancy name fool you into thinking it’s rocket science. Doing it with a friend or having a barista walk you through the steps might boost your confidence. You can brew more than one cup if you want (measurements will vary), but chemex works best if you’re making one or two cups. To make one cup of coffee using chemex you’ll need:
- 30 grams of coffee (medium to coarse grind)
- 450 grams of water
- chemex and filters
- spouted water kettle, like a Hario (optional)
Follow these steps:
Step 1: First, rinse your filter by pouring a bit of hot water into it (making sure to wet it on all sides.) This also doubles as tempering the vessel, and gets rid of the nasty filter taste. Pour that water out.
Step 2: Now add your coffee. Make sure the grinds lay as a flat, even surface.
Step 3: Start the timer and begin by pouring the water in a circular motion over the grounds, starting in the center and working your way out. (You’ll use this same method each time you pour.) This first pour is called the bloom, and it’s normally 30 grams, or equivalent to however many grams of coffee you put in.
Step 4: After 30 seconds, start your second pour (150 grams) in the same circular, center-to-outside motion. Let that settle for a moment. (You want to keep a somewhat high “bed” of water at at all times, allowing your grinds to have constant contact with water. So don’t let them settle for too long!)
Step 5: Pour your next 150-300 grams. Again, let it settle.
Step 6: Pour to 450 grams. Total brew time should be about 4-5 minutes.
Step 7: After you’re done pouring, the surface of the coffee should be flat. Tip: the fewer grinds you find on the sides of the filter, the better your pour!
One thing you’ll notice about chemex is that it produces a clear tasting cup (unlike French Press). One of our baristas says, “Chemex is my favorite brewing method because it’s got a thick, dense filter…because it’s a clean cup, it brings out the brightness and fruitiness of the coffee and allows [the flavors] to travel more.” While chemex typically creates a light cup, it can also make a heavy one if you adjust the ratio of water to coffee. Your drink will always be well-balanced, though, and have the same smooth flavor that distinguishes chemex from other brewing methods.
We’ve shown you the most common chemex method, the “traditional” chemex, but there are variations. Don’t be hesitant to research, experiment, and explore them all. Compare chemex to other methods (you’ll find cleanup for chemex is easier than it is for French Press.) Try a variety of coffees, too, although we think fruity coffees like Ethiopian showcase chemex the best.
Once you’ve got the hang of the process, teach a friend! And if you’re unsure if you’re “doing it right,” come hang out with us. At Seeds, coffee and community is what we do best, and we’d love to share what we know. We strive to serve you great coffee here in the shop, but we also hope to equip and empower you to make great coffee at home too. So whether you’re looking to be adventurous and want to try a new brewing method or you’re a long-time lover of chemex and are eager to learn more, feel free to swing by 174 Oxmoor Rd. and chat with one of our baristas.
Limited Time Offer: To help you get started, for every Chemex you buy, we’ll give you a free box of filters. This offer is good through August 31.